The classic Iceland adventure
The Northern lights
The mystical, ethereal, money-can’t buy experience. Sitting up all night in the freezing cold to see the sky light up in unbelievable colors is what spurred us chase them. Recommendations from friends are what made us choose Iceland to see them from.
Being the 28-going-on-80 year olds that we are, we decided that rather than sitting up to wait for the lights, we’d set our alarms every night and be in an optimum place to see them. (Optimum – ha! More on that later). Hence the idea to get a camper van and be in the middle of nowhere each night.
After scouring the internet after work each night we found Rent.is and booked – yay!! Then we waited for our holiday to begin and finally arrived on a cold night in October. After a very pleasant stay at a B&B where we befriended the local hotel manager, we finally got picked up by the camper van company early on a Monday morning.
It might sound silly to the seasoned travelers and camper van owners out there, but the thorough explanation of all the little hidden secrets of the camper van only got us more excited about the road trip ahead of us. How can a bed, table, chairs and all other small creature comforts fit in this car?! Somehow it did and to top it off it had WiFi – so much for living off the grid for a few days…!
Our plan was to drive from Reykjavik to Höfn and back. West to East coast, along the famous Ring road. Höfn was as far as we could comfortably get in the few days we had. Our first stop was a supermarket to stock up on essentials for the road trip. And by essentials we mean chips, crackers, cheese and chocolate. We were on holiday, don’t judge. Finally, we were on the road. The next stop, or the first actual sightseeing spot, was the famous Seljalandsfoss. As we all know, many touristy spots are underwhelming but this waterfall is simply majestic. We did the walk all around and behind it and have NEVER been so cold, ever! Many photos and unsuccessful selfies later, let’s just say the constant heating in the camper van was extremely welcome!
Next stop – Vik (Vik i Myrdal)! Famous for the Reynisdrangar or “sea stacks” (we called them Viking rocks because that’s just cooler), Vik is a cute little town on the beach. We set up our camper van for the first time at the campground there for the night, not knowing the beauty that we would awake to – stunning cliffs on one side and the sea stacks out from a black sand beach on the other. High up on the cliffs, a quaint little red-roofed church.
A cold shower at the campground and many hot drinks later, we were on the road East again. The scenery was amazing. Clean. Wide. Open. Beautiful. Eerie. Rocks covered in moss that looks like grass. Mountains alongside plains that stretch to the horizon. The long, straight, open roads felt like they stretched on forever and the scenery would change when you went around a corner. We couldn’t stop ooh-ing and aah-ing and taking photos. Friends who had been there told us “Don’t stop at every waterfall you see or you won’t get far” and we tried to heed that but it was hard!
We kept driving, stopping for numerous photos and got to Jökulsárlón, a stunning glacier lagoon. We spotted seals and “calving” which is when ice from icebergs or glaciers break off and fall into the water – a sad but majestic sight and sound! More driving later we got to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – a majestic sight of stunning rock faces with clear, icy blue/green water snaking through it as far as the eye could see. There is an 8km track that more intrepid travelers can walk, but due to being short on time we were just grateful we got to see any of it at all, before heading off.
We kept driving and eventually reached Höfn. After exploring the small, cute town, we headed back West for 2 hours, as our map told us there was a better chance of seeing the lights in that area. We found a campground at Skaftafell National Park. We got there after dark but were in for such a treat when we woke up! Snowy mountains and big open grassy plains all around us, even as we brushed our teeth – it was pretty special. Then we packed up and began the drive back to Reykjavik for our last night in Iceland – stopping for a visit to the uber famous Blue Lagoon of course (but it was sold out 🙁 – make sure you book in advance!)
Wow, Reykjavik is a pretty special little city…. Someone told us they felt it had the vibe of a place that was too big to be a town, but too small to be a city. And while it certainly felt more populated than the emptiness we’d been in the past few days, we see what they meant.
We started by stopping by Hallgrímskirkja at the request of one of our family members (an architecture student) and marveled at its Nordic styling – being huge movie fans it reminded us of the palace in Asgard and half expected to see Thor or Loki hanging about. Feeling kind of peckish we spotted a waffle hut so we sat in the wind, breathed down a chocolate covered waffle and took in the sights.
Next up down the main street we noticed a cool little Christmas shop that we felt we had to stop at. Going into this store, we don’t really have anything similar in New Zealand – the entire shop was cosy and red and gold and full of merchandise that would look at home in Santa’s workshop. My girlfriend has a thing for Christmas decorations so we went a little crazy walking round the store and imagining what it would be like if we literally emptied the contents of the store over a tree – how decorated would it look? We didn’t walk out with much but it was great to have a look at everything that was in there.
Being food lovers, we wanted to see what Reykjavik had in the way of decent cuisine – we had a quick google and thought that Grillmarkaðurinn seemed like a pretty reputable spot. Looking at the menu, there was a lot on offer… between us we got to try puffin and Minke whale for an entree and shared an absolutely amazing dessert platter. While all of this was extremely delectable it was one of our mains that really blew our mind. One of us decided to go for the reindeer and while it was quite pricey it was well worth it. The combinations of flavors on the plate, the perfectly cooked meat (and crispy pork belly on the side) made up quite possibly one of the nicest dishes we had ever eaten. The staff were all very friendly – we were sad to leave and wish we could eat there again! We rolled out of there (our belly were full) and went to sleep it off.
Lastly, before we left the next day, we wanted to sample the iconic food item that Reykjavik was really famous for before we flew back to London – Bæjarins Betzu Pylsur – the famous Icelandic hot dog stand that serves the much hyped lamb hot dog. After all the stories we had come across it didn’t disappoint. We had tried a few other Icelandic hot dogs whilst on the road but this one was a clear winner – yum!
After that it was pretty much time to return the van and head back to the airport… A sad moment.
In case you are wondering, despite our best efforts, the setting of alarms and constant middle-of-the-night wake ups, we never did get to see the Northern Lights. Friends and family from back home kept asking us and sadly we had to say no each time. Oh well, just another excuse to come back one day! See you again soon, Iceland.
Read more: Samantha & Eric’s epic Ring Road Roundabout
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